November 1-9 is the 30th Annual Holocaust Education Week, and I was grateful to attend an unforgettable afternoon talk as part of this educational program. In the upstairs room at the Deer Park Library, 85 year-old Helen Schwartz testified to the loss of her entire family and “everything that was dear to me.” In the face of monstrous cruelty, she survived the Bialystok Ghetto in Poland, numerous concentration camps, starvation, beatings, and two trips to the crematorium. She said it was her natural chubbiness which saved her both times; the Germans said she still had enough “meat on her bones” to work.
Many of us in the audience cried as we listened to this petite great-grandmother remember the Germans “packing (Jews) like herrings in a synagogue and torching it”, having to hide her younger brothers in boxes, and carrying out the bodies of the dead at Bergen-Belsen. She can never stop hearing the typhus-stricken girls calling for water.
In attendance at the talk were about twenty adults and a group of middle-school children sitting on the floor. Towards the end of her testimonial, Ms. Schwartz addressed the children specifically, although we all need to cherish these words: “Be good to each other. Respect your mother and father. Be good to your brothers and sisters. I would have given anything to see my family after the war.” She almost broke down and apologized, saying it happens more as she gets older.
I loved what she said at the end of the talk. “Anybody wants to ask me something? I’m still here.”